Award hat-trick with Virtual School announcement

In a hat-trick of good news, an innovative school-college collaboration between three University of the Highlands and Islands colleges has been shortlisted for a third accolade by reaching the finals of this year’s Herald Digital Transformation Awards.

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Lecturer delivering learning through the Virtual School initiative

The three highland colleges are West Highland College UHI, North Highland College UHI and Inverness College UHI. 

The Virtual School, Virtually Anywhere initiative has been chosen as a finalist in the Best Use of Technology in Education category. The awards celebrate how organisations across all industries and sectors have successfully adopted digital technology into their daily practices. 

Earlier this year the Virtual School collected the UK-wide Tes FE Award for ‘Outstanding Use of Technology in Delivering Remote Teaching and Learning’. It is also currently shortlisted for the College Development Network (CDN) Awards. 

Fiona Grant, Director of Academic Affairs at West Highland College UHI, said:

“Our staff have always embraced innovative practices to get the very best results for our students.  We are very proud to be a finalist in the Herald Digital Transformation Awards. Our Virtual School programme has been driven to success by the hard work and forward thinking of our own staff and those of our colleagues from other colleges within the University partnership.

Virtual School is a remarkable testament to the benefits that such collaboration, combined with digital expertise, can bring to young people in even the smallest Highlands schools in remote and rural locations.”

The Virtual School (VS) is a collaboration between the three colleges, Highland Council and the 29 High Schools in their geographical area and is designed to ensure that pupils living in remote and rural areas have access to a wider curriculum choice and high quality, interactive learning experience using digital technologies. 

College, school and council staff developed a common, Highland-wide, timetable to allow more and more pupils to engage without affecting their other subjects in the way that travelling to college for a day might have done in the past. A range of around 20 subjects are available including Business Skills, Computing, Music Business and Aquaculture as well as Foundation Apprenticeships in a range of disciplines. 

Pupils say they benefit from a greater subject choice relevant to their chosen career, progression routes into college programme and learning with like-minded pupils from far afield so that they learn about cultural differences. They have also had the opportunity to engage with industry experts and specialists in a highly interactive way and have attended virtual conferences outside the Highlands. 

For the Highlands, Virtual School is particularly valuable as it can help retain more young people here at home during their senior phase at school, where traditionally they may have felt they needed to move away in order to study their chosen subjects. It also means that lecturers have the flexibility to be based wherever they enjoy living but can still contribute to the education of our young people.

The Herald Digital Transformation Awards take place on Thursday, 4th November 2021.